ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated his country’s biggest patriotic holiday on Monday without another major battlefield success in Ukraine, as the war continues into its 11th week with the forces of the Kremlin making little or no progress in their attack.
The Russian leader oversees a Victory Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square, watch troops march in formation and military equipment parade in a celebration of the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany in 1945.
While Western analysts in recent weeks had widely expected Putin to use the holiday to trumpet some sort of victory in Ukraine or announce an escalation, he did neither. Instead, he sought to re-justify war as a necessary response to what he described as a hostile Ukraine.
“The danger was increasing day by day,” Putin said. “Russia gave a preventive response to the aggression. It was forced, timely and the only correct decision.
He avoided battlefield specifics, failing to mention the potentially crucial battle for the vital southern port of Mariupol. and without even pronouncing the word “Ukraine”.
On the ground, meanwhile, intense fighting raged in eastern Ukraine, the vital southern Black Sea port of Odessa came under repeated missile attacks and Russian forces searched to finish off the Ukrainian defenders who were making their last stand in a steel mill in Mariupol.
Putin has long bristled at NATO’s eastward advance into the former Soviet republics. Ukraine and its Western allies have denied that the country poses a threat.
As he always has, Putin falsely portrayed the fighting as a battle against Nazism, thus linking the war to what many Russians consider their finest hour: the triumph over Hitler. The Soviet Union lost 27 million people in what Russia calls the Great Patriotic War.
After fierce and unexpected resistance forced the Kremlin to abandon its efforts to storm kyiv more than a month ago, Moscow’s forces turned their focus to capturing Donbass, the industrial region of east of Ukraine.
But the fighting there has been back and forth, village by village, and many analysts had suggested that Putin could use his holiday speech to present the Russian people with a victory amid discontent over the country’s heavy losses and the punitive effects. Western sanctions.
Others suggested he could declare the fighting a war, not just a “special military operation”, and order a national mobilization, with a call-up from reserves, to replenish ranks depleted for a protracted conflict.
In the end, he gave no signal as to the direction of the war or how he might intend to save her. Specifically, he left unanswered the question of whether or how Russia will mobilize more forces for a continued war.
“Without concrete steps to build a new force, Russia cannot fight a long war, and time is starting to turn on the failure of its military in Ukraine,” tweeted Phillips P. O’Brien, professor of studies. strategies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Nigel Gould Davies, former British Ambassador to Belarus, said: “Russia did not win this war. He begins to lose it.
He said that unless Russia makes a major breakthrough, “the balance of advantages will shift steadily in Ukraine’s favor, especially as Ukraine gains access to increasing volumes of military equipment. more and more sophisticated Westerners”.
Despite Russia’s crackdown on dissent, anti-war sentiment has seeped in. Dozens of protesters were arrested across the country on VE Day, and editors at a pro-Kremlin media outlet rioted by briefly publishing a few dozen articles critical of Putin and the invasion.
In Warsaw, anti-war protesters splattered the Russian ambassador to Poland with what appeared to be red paint as he arrived at a cemetery to pay his respects to Red Army soldiers who died in World War II.
As Putin laid a wreath in Moscow, the air raid sirens sounded again in the Ukrainian capital. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his own Victory Day speech that his country would eventually defeat the Russians.
“Very soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine,” he said in a video. He added: “We are fighting for freedom, for our children, and therefore we will win.”
An adviser to Zelenskyy interpreted Putin’s speech as indicating that Russia has no interest in escalating the war through the use of nuclear weapons or direct engagement with NATO.
Speaking Monday evening in an online interview, Oleksiy Arestovych highlighted Putin’s statement that Russia would honor the memory of those who fought in World War II by doing “everything so that the horror of a world war won’t happen again”.
Instead, he predicted that Russia would make “a slow attempt” to gain control of Donbass, including Mariupol, and a land corridor to the Crimean peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Arestovitch said Russia would prolong the war while bleeding the Ukrainian economy in an attempt to get Ukraine to agree to cede that territory.
Russia has about 97 battalion battlegroups in Ukraine, mostly in the east and south, a slight increase from last week, according to a senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon assessment. Each unit has about 1,000 soldiers, according to the Pentagon.
The official said that overall the Russian effort in Donbass has not made significant progress in recent days and continues to face strong resistance from Ukrainian forces.
Ukraine’s military has warned of a high likelihood of missile strikes over the holidays, and some cities have imposed curfews or warned people not to gather in public places.
More than 60 people are believed to have been killed over the weekend after Russian shelling razed a Ukrainian school used as a shelter in the eastern village of Bilohorivka, Ukrainian officials said.
Russia is perhaps the closest to a victory in Mariupol. The US official said around 2,000 Russian troops were around Mariupol and the city was being pounded by airstrikes. It is believed that as many as 2,000 Ukrainian defenders are resisting the steelworks, the city’s last stronghold of resistance.
The fall of Mariupol would also deprive Ukraine of a vital port, free up troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbass and give the Kremlin some much-needed success.
Odessa, too, has been increasingly bombarded in recent days. The Ukrainian military said Russian forces fired seven missiles from the air in Odessa on Monday night, hitting a shopping center and a warehouse. One person was killed and five others injured, the army said.
The war in the country long known as “Europe’s breadbasket” has disrupted the world’s food supply.
“I saw silos full of cereals, wheat and maize ready to be exported,” European Council President Charles Michel said in a tweet after a visit to Odessa. “This badly needed food is blocked because of the Russian war and the blockade of the Black Sea ports. Causing dramatic consequences for vulnerable countries.
Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine